Explained: What you need to know about Sweden’s pandemic law

Explained: What you need to know about Sweden's pandemic law
Sweden's parliamentary ombudsman has criticised the Swedish government's proposal for a new pandemic law. What is this new law, why is it needed, and what's the current situation?

Why does Sweden need a new pandemic law

The government believes that the two current laws granting it emergency powers in the pandemic – the Public Order Act and the Communicable Diseases Act – do not give it sufficient powers to impose far-reaching lockdown measures.

The missing powers include, among other things, limiting numbers at or closing down shopping centres, restaurants, bars, and gyms, fining people who hold private parties or gather in crowded places, and limiting public transport. 

A minority of lawyers disagree, with the former judge Krister Thelin arguing, for instance, that the Communicable Diseases Act already gives the government such powers. 

Why has the parliamentary ombudsman criticised the proposed pandemic law

The parliamentary ombudsman, which is the body appointed by the Swedish parliament to ensure that public authorities and their staff comply with the law, argued that the proposed law gave the government excessive powers and lacked the necessary controls. 

"My view is that the current bill, given its wide scope and limited control mechanisms, does not meet the high requirements that should be placed on a legal regulation of this kind," said Chief Justice Ombudsman Elisabeth Rynning. 

The ombudsman recommended limiting the validity of the law, giving the parliament the power to review the government’s use of the law, or the measures they propose under it, or giving the parliament the right to appeal against decisions taken under the law. 

What does that mean for Sweden’s government and the law

It doesn’t mean the law has been denied, but it might mean the government will need to adapt the law.

The government has sent the bill to 129 government agencies, municipalities and organisations, including the parliamentary ombudsman.

They were given until Wednesday to comment on it, after which the government will decide how to move forward, and whether to incorporate the feedback into the final version of the bill to be put to a parliamentary vote.

Sweden’s government has complained that a similar right of review enshrined in the temporary pandemic law rushed through parliament on April 16th was the reason why the law expired in July without ever being used. 

When does the government hope to be able to use the new pandemic law

When the idea for the new law was first proposed in October, Sweden’s Health Minister Lena Hallengren suggested that it would not be ready until next summer. 

When the formal process was begun at the start of this month, she said she hoped the law could come into force by March 15th. 

On Sunday, the government said it now hoped to fast-track the new law so it could be in place in January.

Before it can come into force, the government needs to send out the proposal for consultation from relevant agencies – the stage it’s currently at – before putting forward a bill which must be passed by parliament.

What powers did April’s temporary "crisis law" give the government and what happened to it? 

The temporary crisis law also gave the power to impose quick decisions, such as closing transport hubs, restaurants or shopping centre. 

But both Sweden’s Moderate Party and the parliament’s Council of Legislation criticised it as being too vague, and managed to add an amendment which meant that while the government could impose measures immediately, it would then have to take them to parliament for review. 

Hallengren has argued that this requirement made the law in effect useless. This is partly because of the time and resources required to make a case for the measures, and the risk of measures being introduced and then immediately removed after a parliamentary review, causing confusion. 

Why not just revive the old crisis law

The opposition Moderate Party on Monday called for the government to do just that: hold a special session of parliament to revive and extend the temporary law. 

"This would give the government the authority it needs to have from Christmas and over New Year," the party’s leader Ulf Kristersson, told the TT newswire. 

He said that the planned pandemic law risked coming too late. 

"If they want to accelerate this process, which we think should be done, and not wait until March or the middle of January, we are ready to cooperate in immediately calling in the parliament and taking a decision over the coming days and to bring back the crisis law we had in the spring." 

Hallengren has said the old law was rendered useless by the changes pushed through by opposition parties, and that this is the reason the law cannot just be revived.

"We wanted to have a mandate from the parliament to make quick decisions, and we didn’t get that mandate. When we got that no from the parliament, and most of all from the Moderate Party, we have to use other tools," she has said.

Source: TheLocal.se

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Explained: What you need to know about Sweden’s pandemic law

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